10/10/2020 : Identity
I now live in an area where Lord Stanley’s cup has been recently re-won by the local club and the Major League Baseball team is amongst the four remaining contenders for this season’s World Series trophy. Yet I feel no sense of identification with either.
That’s not to say that those teams don’t have a local following ... in fact it can be successfully argued that the Lightning have transformed Tampa into a “hockey town”. There is a loyal fan base which has been re-energized by the team’s recent success and this years championship. The club was founded in 1992 and for other than six seasons in their 28 year history they have drawn close to annually packed houses. They have built an identity and history of player recognition from Lecavalier to St Louis to Stamkos.
The baseball Rays conversely have struggled to draw fans over their 23 year history even with their recent successes. There are likely a number of factors including the stadium, it’s location and an abundance of retiree residents akin to me who’ve built ingrained baseball loyalties to the teams we grew up with. But one thing to me that also stands out is a lack of team and player identity.
The Rays don’t keep players on their roster long. To my knowledge there hasn’t been a Rays player to start and end an elongated playing career in Tampa. Kevin Kiermaier is the longest tenured member of this year’s club having been drafted and signed in 2010 but the majority of the roster has been acquired from other organizations. Kiermaier will likely not finish his career as a Ray.
It’s true that by comparison a twenty two year history is short when placed against historic franchises like the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and our Phillies. It can also be argued that the Rays have had great success with eight winning seasons in their short history including seven of 90 wins or more. Yet I still sense a lack of the community connection ...
Growing up a Phillies fan I remember more years of struggle than triumph. The sixties were a blur but the seventies brought runs of division titles spearheaded by a core of players that remained constant and with which we fans identified as our own. With the exception of the joy we felt in 1980 the eighties and nineties left the cupboard bare for the most part in regards to victories but a rebirth of a core group brought us a run of success from 2007 to 2012 ...
What persisted though throughout all those times was an identity ... the loyalty of team fan-dome ... an ongoing association with the club and its players we rooted for. Baseball has brought that identification process to many a city and region and to many a fan like me.
In our present world where a seemingly never ending divide exists from an ongoing political posturing, one ups man-ship and discord for discussion and in many cases truth ... we need our identity even more. We need Baseball.
I hope that the Rays can remain in Tampa long term and find a way to establish a core presence so that a youngster of today that lives in my present community can find the same love of the game that I found so many years ago for my local team. I hope that the game continues to grow to intrigue a future fan base to find such love.
Life is an evolution, changes occur out of both necessity and conceptual endeavor. That’s a given we all must embrace else be left behind in the worship of history. Baseball mirrors life in that regard, whether it be rule changes, use of technology or adjusting to the surrounding times.
But there needs to be at least one remaining constant in Life and Baseball ... an identity that persists and a love of such ... it’s core to our strength and ability to endure ... it’s perhaps the biggest part of it ...
Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️